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National Curriculum

A short guide text version

Our curriculum should help children become the very best they can be.

We live in a changing world, and our curriculum has to evolve to prepare our children for the opportunities and challenges of life in the 21st century.

Here's what two parents told us, when we asked them about what they wanted from their child's primary education:

"We want children to have the chance to explore, be creative, and discover the world around them."

"I would like to see children having access to as wide a range of experiences as possible so each child has an opportunity to shine."

What's changing?

"...a well-planned vibrant curriculum recognises that primary children relish learning independently and cooperatively; they love to be challenged and engaged in practical activities; they delight in the wealth of opportunities for understanding more about the world."
Sir Jim Rose

  • The new curriculum has a clear set of aims, more flexibility and more opportunities for all children to become successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.

  • There's a new focus on the essentials for learning and life.

  • Learning has been reorganised into six areas that easily relate to each other and allow teachers more flexibility to adapt their curriculum to each child's needs.

  • Thousands of children, teachers, parents and education experts have contributed to the review of the primary curriculum. Now it's time to learn more about the proposals.


"If we can give children these skills - to communicate, to work together, to present, to talk, to be confident, to be successful - they will be confident and successful learners in whatever career they choose."
Primary headteacher

  • Children will develop a deeper knowledge and understanding by making connections between and within areas of learning.

  • Better links between school, home and the community will ensure that what children learn in school is given context in the real world.

  • Teachers will have more flexibility to create challenging, exciting and engaging learning activities.

  • It will better prepare children for secondary school.

This is what teachers who have been trialling the draft materials have to say about their experience of the revised curriculum in practice:

Wayne Beech – class teacher
"The new proposed curriculum allows me a lot more fun, a lot more freedom, a lot more creativity in teaching it which is fantastic."

Terry Maxwell - consultant
"I think that it is very empowering to the children that they can help to define what they’re learning and also as a school, as a headteacher, it can help to define the whole ethos of your school."

Alice Witherow – headteacher
"We trialled a project using the personal, social aspect of the curriculum. We had an enquiry question for children to find out whether all families are the same and the children in year one and two each took home a camera and photographed their families. We were particularly interested in the communication skills that children had - to communicate their ideas and their understanding of diversity, to create a sense of respect of the importance of difference within our school community and to involve parents in learning because we feel that is an essential part of any kind of curriculum."

Terry Maxwell - consultant
"When I first looked at the proposed curriculum we were trying to define what we wanted to do in terms of literacy and I saw that we could broadcast and we could use ICT. I just said 'this is fantastic'. This is going to be just exactly what we want to do."

Alice Witherow - headteacher
"We’d videoed the children before they started and then again at the end. What we discovered was children had a much better understanding of their different backgrounds and they knew far more about each other than they had known at the start of the project. They were also much better at finding out information. Initially their ability to ask questions of each other was quite limited but by the end of the project that communication between them was greatly enhanced, as were their DT skills and their art skills because we integrated a whole load of other subject areas into the project."

Gary Rees - headteacher
"The impact on the pupils has been immense, particularly in the areas of the essentials for learning and life. By looking at areas of learning and skills and understanding I think that empowers teachers to move beyond a subject driven curriculum."

Alice Witherow - headteacher
"The other thing teachers said to me was they loved having the innovation and the ability to create a curriculum and they were highly motivated and highly focused on learning. If the curriculum is so prescribed to them, some of that motivation is lessened and therefore they are not as enthusiastic and the children are not as enthusiastic and we know that children who are enthusiastic learn with more profundity and the learning is not surface and that’s extremely important in a curriculum."

What the proposed curriculum looks like

It is an opportunity for new ways of organising learning, designed around a clear set of aims. The curriculum aims help teachers keep in mind the purpose of the curriculum which is enabling all children to become:

  • successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve

  • confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives

  • responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

To achieve these aims, children need to be equipped with the essentials for learning and life:

  • literacy, numeracy and ICT capability

  • learning and thinking skills, personal and emotional skills, and social skills.

These skills can be developed across the whole curriculum, and provide some of the building blocks for successful lifelong learning, in a digital age.

The aims and essentials will be developed through each of the six areas of learning. The new areas of learning are:

  • Understanding the arts - exciting children's imaginations about the arts and developing their creativity

  • Understanding English, communication and languages - developing children's communication and language skills

  • Historical, geographical and social understanding - stimulating children's curiosity about the past and the present, and their place in the world

  • Mathematical understanding - developing children's understanding of mathematics and its use in everyday life

  • Understanding physical development, health and wellbeing - developing children's understanding of what makes a healthy, active and fulfilling life

  • Scientific and technological understanding - developing children's understanding of the natural and man-made worlds and their curiosity and inventiveness.

Areas of learning

Along with the aims, each area of learning contains essential knowledge, understanding and skills from a range of subject disciplines.

It begins with an importance statement, which explains the distinctive contribution of the area to a child's development.

Essential knowledge describes the big ideas children need to know and understand and key skills set out the important skills and processes children need to develop.

Cross-curricular studies set out the opportunities children should be given to enrich and enhance their learning and make connections with other parts of the curriculum.

The breadth of learning describes the range of contexts and experiences within which children acquire essential knowledge and key skills. Curriculum progression gives an overview of what children must be taught at early, middle and later primary stages, to help teachers plan.

Case studies

Case study 1: Developing the historical, geographical and social area of learning
Children at Halterworth School have been learning about the Earth's resources and climate change. Working with a local sustainability group, the children launched a campaign to reduce the use of plastic bags in their community. Inspired by the children's work, teachers developed the project as a focus for geography and citizenship in the curriculum. Children went on to design bags and commission a fair trade company in the Pondicherry region of India to produce them.

Case study 1: Video transcript
"I’m proud when I’m in the Green Group because I know that when we’re helping people we’re not just helping people in our community we’re also helping people in other countries."

"This is the only world we’ve got and we may as well look after it because we’re not going to find another one."

Phil Thomas – Year 5 class teacher
"At Halterworth we really want our children to be active learners. We’ve had a school council for a number of years. Recently we’ve also introduced the Green Group. The Green Group focuses mostly on sustainable and environmental issues. "

Sustainability campaigner, talking to school assembly
"To begin with all plastics including plastic bags are made from oil, which as you probably know is a non-renewable fossil fuel."

Phil Thomas – Year 5 class teacher
"The bag for life initiative really enabled the children to focus and improve their knowledge and understanding of geographical issues whilst also realising that there’s a link between humans and the physical causes and consequences of climate change."

"We don’t just care about our country; we care about the entire world and everyone in it."

Phil Thomas – Year 5 class teacher
"They wanted to make a difference and they decided to do this by designing bags that could be used again and again."

"It's important to help the world because we are all equal and we are all human beings and we deserve to look after each other."

Phil Thomas – Year 5 class teacher
"Fair trade is an issue we have been exploring in citizenship and the children felt it was absolutely essential that these bags should be produced from cotton under fair trade principles. The children decided to commission a factory in the Pondicherry area of India. They then set to work on designing, drawing their own faces on the bags and then had the task of selling these to families and friends. To assess the impact of this project we have conducted pupil interviews."

"I like coming to school because it is a really fun place to be and you know that all your ideas actually get taken into account they don’t just go away. Everybody is part of the decision, not just the teachers. "

Phil Thomas – Year 5 class teacher
"We’re really excited about the new proposed primary curriculum. The fact that the children are able to feed more in at all stages brings a sense of freshness and this leads us down a more creative route."

Case study 2: Improving English, communications and language skills, through a cross-curriculum project to start a school radio station.
The launch of the radio station has provided a new and exciting context for developing reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. Children at Malvern Wyche Primary School have worked together in teams to research and produce radio programmes. Together, they came up with ideas and characters, wrote scripts, rehearsed programmes and recorded their radio broadcasts. The children have become increasingly successful and confident in their communication skills and are motivated by working for a real audience and purpose.

Case study 2: Video transcript
"Hello and welcome to Wyche School news now. Blue class will be performing their Viking play on the evening of Wednesday the 1st of April. We hope that as many parents as possible will be able to come."

Jon Westwood - deputy head teacher
"The radio station allowed us to develop lots of essential skills, especially literacy. We came up with an idea for a programme called “The Bedtime Hour”. The children chose to write bedtime stories based on plants as characters. Each of the characters had their own personality for example the cactus was quite a spiky angry character."

Group of pupils
"We’ve got arrogant, I think that’s it."


"Oh stroppy, that’s a good one."

Jon Westwood – deputy head teacher
"The children’s speaking and listening skills were developed as the narratives were finished they then recorded their stories."

"It looked as if all the stars in the sky were on the floor glowing up at them. It was so bright it began to hurt."

Jon Westwood - deputy head teacher
"Then they were played back to be evaluated."

"I would say its like build up the bit towards the light a bit more."

"I struggle a bit because I’ve got dyslexia and recording my voice helps me to learn and helps me to read. "

Jon Westwood - deputy head teacher
"Children with special educational needs have flourished with the small group scenarios. They feel valued. Their self-esteem has been raised and they also feel listened to by their peers. One of the groups had chosen to focus their radio show on Tanzania. We’ve just made links with a school in Tanzania called Gofu-Juu. They're beginning to understand that by working through the groups that people have different roles within society as in their radio show."

"Hello and welcome to the first broadcast of WSR. I’m Charlotte and I have got Millie here with me over the next 20 minutes. "

"We’ve got a fantastic show with a Tanzania feel."

(Radio Jingle)

Jon Westwood - deputy head teacher
"They're using more precise language, they can express themselves much better, they enjoy listening to others now and they can read more readily, quickly and more efficiently."

"Its official name is the United Republic of Tanzania. 29 million people live there."

Jon Westwood - deputy head teacher
"It’s put the fun back into teaching for myself as a teacher but also my pupils as learners."

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